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2005 Manual: Sample Chapter
© 2005 Volunteer Legal Services Program



This manual was written specifically for attorneys representing low-income San Francisco tenants. The publication is not intended to be a comprehensive treatise on landlord/tenant law or practice. Rather, the authors have set forth an overview and general discussion of the central issues and concepts that will arise in eviction defense under the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance. For a more detailed discussion of particular issues, you should consult the following resources:


A.                 General Resources


California Eviction Defense Manual 2ed., by Myron Moskovitz and Bay Area Legal Aid (May 1998 CEB) (hereinafter, EDM).


California Residential Landlord-Tenant Practice by Myron Moskovitz (1998 CEB) (hereinafter, Moskovitz II).


California Practice Guide: Landlord-Tenant by Terry Friedman, David Garcia, and Mark Hagarty (2004 TRG)(hereinafter, Friedman & Garcia). This publication is particularly helpful because one of the authors, David Garcia, is a former San Francisco Superior Court Judge.


The San Francisco Rent Board Website: The San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance (including Rules and Regulations of the Rent Board) can be found at this website: This website is a free online resource for volunteer attorneys, paralegals, social service advocates and interpreters who provide pro bono assistance to low-income clients. The Eviction Defense practice area contains a variety of resources designed to assist you with your pro bono case, including the Eviction Defense training manual parts I & II, a calendar of training events, an extensive resource library, a list of available cases, and relevant news articles.


B.                 Resources for Public Housing Cases


In addition to applicable statutes, regulations and relevant case law, other helpful resources include:


1. The San Francisco Housing Authority operates the Public Housing Program by way of a policy manual called the “Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy Manual” and the Section 8 program by the “Administrative Plan for the Section 8 Voucher Program”. The current version of each of these manuals should be available for review at the San Francisco Housing Authority office at 440 Turk Street.

2. HUD maintains a website which includes the federal regulations as well as program directives at

3. The National Housing Law Project’s HUD Housing Programs: Tenants Rights, 3d ed. A comprehensive and invaluable resource for all federally subsidized housing programs.

4.      Notices and Handbooks issued by HUD that apply to public and other federally subsidized housing. Handbooks contain material of a more permanent nature than Notices. They both contain policies and rules that are not in the CFR. Copies of HUD Handbooks and Notices can be obtained by calling (800) 767-7468 or fax (202) 708-2313. HUD notices and handbooks are also available online at


Helpful Handbooks include:


a. Handbook 4350.3, Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Developments . This Handbook covers the Section 221 (d)(3) and Section 236 programs. It also covers certain Section 8 and 202 housing. Chapter 1 of the Handbook identifies all housing programs subject to the Handbook. Available online at


b. Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook. Designed to assist HUD and housing authority staff with a range of issues relating to public housing occupancy:


c. Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook. This guidebook addresses issues arising in the tenant based rental assistance program commonly known as “Section 8” now known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program.


This Eviction Defense manual is divided into two volumes. Part I is an overview of the substantive law and procedure. Part II contains sample forms and pleadings. Parts I & II of the Eviction Defense Manual can be read and printed from Additionally the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance (including Rules and Regulations of the Rent Board) can be found at the SF Rent Board website:


Landlord/tenant practice changes constantly. Please contact VLSP if you come across any errors or omissions. Your input is essential if this publication is to remain useful.

If, after consulting this publication, or other relevant material, you are unable to resolve or understand a matter satisfactorily, please call one of the attorneys on your expert list (call VLSP if you no longer have that list). These experts are also available to strategize with you about your pro bono cases. You can also call Mairi McKeever, VLSP staff attorney on the Landlord Tenant Project.







II.               TYPES OF HOUSING


Because of the wide variety of laws that may apply, it is very important at the outset of a case to determine the type of rental housing involved in your case. The basic types are: privately owned rental units subject to the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance, Ch. 37 of the San Francisco Administrative Code, (hereinafter, Rent Ordinance); subsidized and public housing, which may or may not be subject to the Rent Ordinance; and other housing which is exempt from the Rent Ordinance. The type of housing determines the rights of the parties.


A.                 Rent Controlled Housing

The Rent Ordinance limits the amount by which a landlord may increase the rent. The limits do not apply when a rental unit becomes vacant and is re-rented. In an attempt to prevent landlords from evicting tenants from rental units solely to increase the rent to market rate, the Rent Ordinance also limits evictions to fourteen “just cause” reasons. The Rent Ordinance also provides a variety of technical defenses for tenants facing eviction.


The Rent Ordinance applies to all residential rental units in the City and County of San Francisco. The exceptions to this general rule are found at Section 37.2(p) of the Rent Ordinance. The main exceptions are: “new” housing built after June 13, 1979; residential hotel rooms where the tenant has been in occupancy less than 32 continuous days; and units where the rents are controlled by another government agency. But Section 8 units, HOPWA units and other certificate-based subsidized units are covered by the eviction protections and some of the rent limitation protections of the Rent Ordinance: see discussion at Subsidized Housing, Section VI below.


Effective January 1, 1999, all single family dwellings and condominium units are exempt from the rent limitation provisions of the Rent Ordinance, unless:


a) the tenant in possession of the unit has had an ongoing tenancy dating back prior to January 1, 1996

b) the preceding tenancy has been terminated by the landlord’s service of a thirty-day notice.


See Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, Civil Code Section 1954.50 - 1954.53. Costa-Hawkins does not exempt these rental units from the eviction limits of the Rent Ordinance.


The Rent Ordinance applies to rental units whether or not they comply with building, health or safety codes or whether there is a valid permit of occupancy.





B.                 Subsidized Housing

Most subsidized housing is administered by the San Francisco Housing Authority and subsidized by a bewildering array of federal programs. A landlord’s obligations and a tenant’s rights vary substantially from program to program. Some subsidized housing is now covered in part by the Rent Ordinance. For a detailed description of the lease terms and eviction requirements for the various programs see Sections V and VI below.


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